Understanding cancer symptoms and healthcare interactions amongst smokers

Recognition of patients of symptoms that are potentially serious and so presenting them to their doctor is a key part of the early cancer diagnosis pathway. In order to improve cancer outcomes we need to understand individual responses to symptoms prior presentation in order to direct interventions at this part of the pathway appropriately. Smokers are at higher risk of several cancers and therefore a group whose understanding of potential cancer symptoms and intentions in relation to help-seeking behaviour is particularly important to investigate.

The aim of the study is to investigate the impact of smoking status on responses to potential cancer symptoms. We will focus on symptoms of lung, head and neck cancers as examples of cancers of which smokers are at higher risk than non-smokers.

The main question is: ‘What are the barriers and facilitators for smokers in presenting with cancer-related symptoms to primary care when there is a new or perceived change in respiratory or head and neck symptoms?’

The study has two parts:

  • Questionnaire study: We will identify smokers and non-smokers over the age of fifty from GP lists in Hull and Leeds and send then a specially developed postal questionnaire, which includes questions about symptoms, response to symptoms, triggers to consultation and use of health services. 
  • Interview study: This is an in-depth interview study with smokers and social contacts. We will purposively sample a subset of respondents of smokers from the questionnaire study. The interviews will cover smoking behaviour and attempts to give up; perceptions of health and illness, experience of symptoms, health seeking behaviour including contact with health care, the influence of others in presenting symptoms; experience and perceptions of smoking cessation awareness both in general and in healthcare interactions.

This project is led by HYMS:



Funder(s): Cancer Research UK 
Start Date:  March 2013
End Date:  March 2015


Internal Staff

External Collaborators

  • Gavin Anderson
  • Gillian Greenwood
  • Una Mcleod
  • Nicholas Stafford
  • Julie Walabyeki
  • Jane Wardle

Public Health and Society Research in the Department of Health Sciences